KARACHI, March 22: The threat of damage and destruction from tsunamis and cyclones can be minimised to a great extent if the existing mangrove forests are protected and more trees are planted along the coast, said officials of the IUCN â€“ the World Conservation Union on Tuesday.Speaking at a press briefing on “Effects of tsunami in Japan and disaster risk reduction mechanisms in Pakistan”, IUCN's Asia chief Aban Marker Kabraji said that mangrove forests not only worked as natural barriers in case of a tsunami or a cyclone but were also cheaper alternatives to the stonewalls or other man-made structures which might be effective for normal sea waves but could not withstand high tides caused by a cyclone.
She said Japan had cultivated between 200- and 300-metre-wide coastal belts for forests which successfully buffered most of the wave energy when the tsunami hit the country. She said better land use planning, which had kept the locations of the major population and financial centres away from the coast, were less affected. These greenbelts not only saved the countless lives but would also eventually help in making recovery more efficient, she added.
Referring to the Asian tsunami of 2004, she said that the damage was quite less where the coasts were protected with plantations in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. She added that the villages, which had kept the mangrove plantations and coral reefs intact, managed to survive without a massive damage.
Similarly, she said that Bangladesh planted mangrove forests and build mud dykes along the coast during the past decade after facing many cyclones over the years. Some time back when another cyclone had hit the country, it was observed that destruction due to the sea surge would have been massive had there been no mangroves and mud dykes.
She said the mangrove forests also worked as breeding grounds for commercially important marine food species. This way not only the coastal communities involved in fishing activities were benefited but the country's overall economy was strengthened with an increase in seafood exports, she added.
The IUCN regional chief said that mangroves were also one of the best carbon sinks and by planting these trees environment would benefit.
She highlighted the need for planting more mangrove forests besides protecting the existing mangroves so that not only the sea intrusion, which also destroyed sweet subsoil water and subsequently ruined fertile agricultural land, was countered but in case of natural disasters like cyclones and tsunamis the coastal communities also suffered less.
Ms Kabraji said that a one-mile-wide greenbelt having mangroves and other plantations should be reserved along the coast while planning development schemes so that these could be protected from natural disasters, which would continue to come particularly keeping in view the climate change relating to global warming, subsequent glacial melt leading to sea level rise, etc. In the existing uplift projects, the cutting of existing trees should be stopped strictly and trees be planted wherever possible.
She recalled that the floods that ravaged this country last year had wreak havoc on those areas where the tree cover was less. She said that had there been trees in mountains in the northern parts of the country there would have been less flash floods and there would been lesser breeches in the river dykes had the forests, which also strengthen the dykes, in the kutcha areas not been cut down ruthlessly.
The mangrove cover in the Indus delta region spread over 600,000 hectares in the 1950s but owing to the ruthless logging and less amount of freshwater flowing in the Indus downstream from Kotri the existing thick forest cover was only around 86,000 hectares, said IUCN country representative Shah Murad Aliani.
He said that while the IUCN was already involved in mangrove plantations for over a decade, a major project in collaboration with the government was also being planned to plant mangroves over 100,000 hectares.
He said that a tsunami had hit the Pakistani coast in 1945 in which over 5,000 lives had been lost, but the loss could be many times more if such a disaster hit the coast now. He said that cyclones had been hitting the coast and the most recent one was Phet that had hit the Gwadar in Balochistan and Keti Bunder in Sindh.
Ghulam Haider Shah and Rafiul Haq also spoke.